Tuesday March 1, 2016:Santiago

This morning I left the Airbnb apartment and walked to the Crowne Plaza Hotel where the Grand Circle starts the 12-day tour of Chile and Argentina. I checked in and then joined Gary, Maria and Susan.  We took a taxi to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) which was inaugurated in 2010.

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In the lobby there is a map of the world made up of photos of human rights violations across the world.  Below are pages each listing a human rights investigation after 1973 with the country, the period being investigated and the result. It was a painful reminder of how many places in the world have experienced and are experiencing human rights violations.

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No photos were allowed in the museum itself.

The main two floors covered the period from the military coup in Chile in 1973 that resulted in the death of socialist president, Salvador Allende and the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet who ruled the country from 1973 to 1990.  It covered the tortures, executions and disappearances during the Pinochet period and then the time when he was forced to step down in 1990 and the country was returned to democracy. I found it fascinating and also upsetting especially the videos of testimonals of those who described the events of the coup itself and the atrocities afterward. It is hard to recognize again how inhumane many of the human race can be, all over the world.  I was moved by Allende’s speech to the people of Chile from a radio station while the city was under siege, just before he shot himself.

There is a room with electronic candles and a database you can search for the name of a  victim.  The room looks out at a wall wth hundreds of photos of the missing and the dead, that is also very moving.  I ran out of time and sadly did not manage to go up to the top floor where there was a termorary exhibit on the broader issues of Human Rights world-wide.

I would highly recommend this museum to anyone visiting Santiago, and would like to go back and see more some time in the future if I can ever return.

We went back to the hotel and met the Grand Circle tour leader, Marta Ficarra,  and the other travelers at 2:00 pm for an introduction to the trip.  There are 30 people on the trip, most of whom are part of the Rossmoor Travel Club.  Gary organized the trip for them and I paid dues to join the Club, as did Susan, so that we could travel with them as part of the group.  There are also 12 people who are not part of the Rossmoor group, coming from NC, WA, IN and FL.

Marta comes from Argentina and is an English translator, so her English is excellent. First impressions are that she will be a wonderful guide! She gave us much of the usual “spiel” for Grand Circle/Overseas Adventure Travel Tours, including the idea that we are travelers who will learn a lot from our journey and experiences as opposed to tourists just visiting the sites.

She showed us the map and told us we will be traveling 1,800 miles together – quite a way, but not a surprise considering that Chile is 3,000 miles long (but less than 100 miles wide).

At 4:00pm we were taken by bus to a winery, Paseo del Vino, about 45 minutes drive South from Santiago.  It is in the Maipo Valley which is one of the largest wine growing areas in Chile.

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Paseo del Vino is a very small winery, only 1 acre, and the owner, Roberto, is a very dedicated educator.  He did an excellent job giving us background on wine growing in Chile:

  • There are more than 300 wineries in Chile – 80% of the wine produced is red
  • Chile makes 2% of the wine worldwide, but is 4th in the export of red wine (behind France, Italy and Spain) 80% of their wine is exported
  • Chile can produce red wines with the best quality of fruit – highly concentrated – a result of the soil, water and weather
  • Chilean wines cannot be stored for many years – they are ready to drink out of the winery and for 1-3 more years only
  • Maipo is the best wine area – it has deep water, the right soil, and the right climate – very hot in summer through harvest time, and high temperatures during the day but low temperatures at night, so the vines only get water that is deliberately applied and the plants can rest at night, saving all their energy for the production of highly concentrated fruit
  • He is able to cheat the plants – he stops watering in the very hot weather so that the plants think they are about to die and therefore put all the nutrients into the fruit for seeds. After the harvest, he waters really well so that the vines restore energy to the leaves for photosynthesis so that energy is available in spring to start again.
  • He is able to produce 3,000 bottles of organic wine on his 1 acre – carmenère (which is unique to Chile), cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese and syrah.

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Roberto then told us how he deals with the three main pests without toxins – of course as an enthusiastic organic vegetable gardener, I found this particularly interesting!  The three pests and their controls are:

  1. The Burrito beetle with chickens that find them on the ground under the vines when they fall off leaves in defense against birds (Roberto rents 40 hens from a neighbor for a week and they take care of the problem – he pays the neighbor in wine)
  2.  A very small red spider that sucks the sap from the leaves is food to ladybugs who can each eat 300 (Roberto grows flowers and leaves grass between the rows of vines to attract then, and provides habitat for them to over-winter)
  3. A pest that only arrived from the north in the last 5 years, a very small, yellow moth that lays eggs in the small grapes and whose larvae eat the grapes from the inside as they grow (Roberto hangs about 400 plastic capsules on the plants that release pheromones in the heat causing the male moths to try to mate with the capsules instead of the females who are only ready to mate for a short period – the government provides the capsules)

Roberto took us outside and described the process of growing vines from cuttings.  It takes 10 years for a vine to start producing good fruit, and the vines have a 40 year lifespan – as they get older they produce less fruit, but it is of a higher quality.

He explained that they use the skin (for color and about 12% of the tannins and antioxidants), the seeds (which provide the other 88% of the tannins and antioxidants) and the juice (which contains the sugars for fermentation and acids).  He told us that there is only one grape, the “tears of Christ” in the world that has red juice – he said that the wine is no good, but can enhance the color of merlot, for example, which does not have golod color, if about 2% added.

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Roberto then told us about corks, a subject he really cares about!  He showed us a cork oak and explained that only in Portugal do these trees grow well enough to produce the right quality and thickness of cork required for wine bottles.  The very best are cut straight from the bark, the next quality are made from pieces glued together and the next after that are made with the smaller particles. He only uses corks imported from Portugal of the best quality.  They can be squeezed in the bottling process and then expand again to create a perfect seal.  He hand corks all his bottles individually with a machine he demonstrated.

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We tasted three of the wines produced there including a sweet red wine that is served cold and was surprisingly excellent (I don’t usually like sweet wines and I have not had a red wine served cold before.  After this we had dinner at the winery – a traditional dish, corn pie, made with corn, minced meat and chicken – quite delicious!

For dessert we had Lucuma ice cream which I really liked.  We had seen lucuma on a menu in Santiago, and I had looked it up in my mobile Spanish Dictionary app, which did not recognize it – one of a number of things unique to South America and not found in Spanish as spoken in Spain!

As we left I admired the windows in the winery that are various colors of glass with whole bottles inserted!

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Monday February 29, 2016: Santiago

Since the museums all close on Mondays and we were all still tired, not setting an alarm and having a leisurely day was very welcome. In the afternoon, I walked over to the hotel and hung out at the pool there with Gary, Maria and Susan for a while and shared a snack by the pool.  I went back to the apartment and started organizing and packing for the morning, then later met the others in the Lastarria neighborhood again.  The restaurant we were looking for was closed, but we found another good one and really enjoyed the dinner there before having a relatively early night.  So far, we all agree the food and wine is excellent and good value too!

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Sunday February 28, 2016: Santiago

On Sunday morning, Maria walked to the apartment from the hotel and we walked together to Plaza de Armas to meet Gary and Susan at the Cathedral.  As we were walking down a quiet street, I suddenly felt something I thought was water drop on my head. Immediately a couple walking behind us offered to help me clean up what looked like bird poop, and wanted Maria to help clean my head while the woman stood close behind her. After an initial few seconds,  we both recognized this scam – neither of us took our hands off our purses (tight to our bodies) and strategic pockets, and they gave up and left us. The fake bird poop smelled of vinegar – not sure what else was in it, but my blouse has a small area that looks as tough it has been bleached – luckily it is a pale color so it is not really noticeable.  A few years ago I was tested by the gold ring scam in Paris but knew what was going on there too so nothing lost. I wonder what other ploys we will experience during this trip!

As we arrived at the square we saw another demonstration – this time for equal rights to government benefits for the immigrants (apparently mostly from Peru) who live in Chile.

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In the Square, we saw the Monument dedicated to the Pueblo Indigena. apparently a very controversial monument on a very controversial subject.

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We walked to the Museo Chileno de Arte PreColumbino and really enjoyed a ginger and mint lemonade in the courtyard cafe before we explored the collection.  We found the many artifacts fascinating and spent more time in the museum than we had expected to do..  Easter Island (Rapa Nui)  belongs to Chile, but the statues from there are more reminiscent of Polynesian culture.  I am sorry that I did not have enough time to add a trip to see the island – another reason why I have to come back some time in the future! There are items from what is now Peru as well as Chile as they date from centuries before the countries existed.

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There were some wonderful examples of fabrics used in decorations, clothing and items for horses.  After the Spaniards arrived the Mapuche, the indigenous people of this area, were renowned as excellent horsemen and there are examples of how important their horses were to them.

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I loved the variety of hats too, especially one that looks like a loose ball of yarn and has hat pins.

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There was also some beautiful jewelry which is mostly large pieces reflecting the status of their owners.

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There were several examples of quipus, the largest of which has 586 cords holding 15,024 items of data!

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One of my favorite pieces was a woman holding an animal on her lap with a rope around its neck.  Animals had an important role in many American cultures and were used as symbols of powerful spirits.  This statue confirms that they were also kept as pets.

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Pregnant women were often represented in preColumbian art as well as in the act of giving birth.  These were symbols of cosmic fertility.

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Seven thousand years ago fisherman from the Arica coast of Chile developed  a complex surgical procedure by which they replaced all the body’s soft parts with branches, plants and mud, mummifying the dead.  This practice was 2,000 years earlier than the Egyptian technique.  This was used not only for the highest dignitaries but was used for people of all ages and statuses.  There was an example of a mummy of a small child.

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There was a display of many images of men chewing coca leaves – they all have a wad in a cheek!

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There was an excellent display of textiles on the upper floor.  Sadly, no photos were allowed.  We were amazed at the variety of techniques used, including weaving and knotting, that resulted in some very beautiful and, in some cases, very delicate fabrics.  There was a very good explanation of each of the techniques used  and the tools involved. We learned that the creation of these fabrics predated any in Europe.

After the museum, we walked back to Barrio Lastarria.  We saw some interesting architecture along the way.

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I loved the orange pots and the pink and yellow table and chairs on one balcony.

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We had an excellent early dinner with great Chilean wine then Gary, Maria and Susan went back to their hotel and I walked back through Lastarria to  Cerro Santa Lucia, the hill and park by my apartment. I decided to walk up the hill to see the view from the top.

The hill was conquered by Pedro de Valdivia  on December 13, 1541. That day celebrates Santa Lucía, hence the name.  It was originally used as a lookout, then in 1816 two forts or castles were built and cannons installed at each. On one side of the hill, Fort Hidalgo was finished in 1820 and is open to view, but not when I was there.

There are a number of intersecting paths up from different parts of the park.  What they have in common is their roughness – I had to keep my eyes firmly on the ground to make sure I was not going to fall. In some places the stairs were particularly uneven both in surface and also in riser heights – you would never see anything as risky as this in the litigious US!

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Because it was the weekend it was quite busy and there were Chilean families and couples as well as visitors from other countries.  I got to the lookout area on the top, which was a very busy spot, and was rewarded with a 360 view of the city.

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On one side near the top is the sepulcher of Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna,  a Chilean writer, journalist, historian and politician of Irish and Basque descent.

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I rested out of the sun for a while with a granadina (frozen juice drink) from a kiosk – I loved the design of the building, and the drink was refreshing and only cost about $0.70 US.

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On my way back down I walked though the Japanese Garden, which was looking a little miserable after a hot summer.

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I got back to the apartment in time to see the sunset.  It was a hot day and I had left the windows open so the apartment was quite pleasant.

Saturday February 27, 2016: Santiago

After staying awake late, I slept in and it was very good to take my time making and drinking coffee at a leisurely pace.  I agree with the description of my apartment in Airbnb, that highlights the location next to Cerro Santa Lucia, a park on the hill just opposite the street that makes a very green and soothing view.  It is on the 5th floor in an older building (there is a small elevator though I used the stairs when I didn’t have to carry suitcases etc.) and the air conditioning is only the windows that open wide and the shutters you close to keep the sun out in the heat of the day.  I liked the idea of living as locals live.  The neighborhood itself, Barrio Lastarria, is very charming and full of life, and also an easy walk from the center of the city.

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Maria and Gary and Gary’s cousin, Susan, had flown in that morning and checked into the hotel (they started out in the same hotel the Grand Circle tour will be using) where they took naps to recover a little from their flights from San Francisco and Portland.  We got together in the afternoon and ate a late lunch in the Barrio Lastarria, which is only 8 minutes walk from the hotel.  Then we took a cab across the river to see Pablo Neruda‘s house, La Chascona, which literally means the one with tangled hair, named after his beloved Matilde Urrutia for whom he built it. The house consists of several buildings which were built on successively higher levels over the years from the entrance level, with a garden courtyard, up the hilly plot to the top.  He reflected his love of the sea in the design of the house, one part like a ship.  He thought of himself as the ship’s captain.   It is charming and the garden is very pretty.  It was very interesting learning more about Neruda and his poetry as well as his love for Matilde. The P and M motif was in several windows.

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A plaque at the top level reminded us that Neruda was not born with that name but adopted it as a pen name after the Czech poet Jan Neruda, and later changed it legally.

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Just outside the house there is a mural that clearly includes Neruda and Mathilde.

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We noticed some other interesting street art nearby.

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We stopped to admire a building with intricate metalwork.

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Gary, Maria and Susan took a cab back to the hotel, but I walked back through the Barrio Bellavista, another neighborhood like Lastarria, with lots of restaurants and bars.

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I crossed the Mapocho river, which is rather uninspiring at this time of year, but apparently much more impressive after the rains come in fall and winter. There are a few padlocks on the bridge I used, like those that couples attach to bridges in many cities these days, but a rather meager selection compared with those in Paris, for example, that have to be cut off to reduce the added weight.

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Back in the Lastarria area, I walked through a different set of streets to get back to the apartment.

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Santiago has bikes for rent as many other cities now do.

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Most of the Government departments are in the central district, so it took me by surprise coming across the Ministry of Defence in the middle of this residential and restaurant area.

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As I got close to my apartment I passed a big protest march.  I could not make out what it was about and asked one of the marchers, but could not fully understand his response, though I did understand that it was about some aspect of women’s health.

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Friday February 26, 2016: Christchurch, New Zealand to Santiago, Chile.

After 5 weeks visiting family in New Zealand, I flew from Christchurch via Auckland and Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile.  It took 23 hours door to door.  I had a good deal on the Air New Zealand ticket, but they don’t fly to Chile, so we went “past” Santiago  to Buenos Aires where I was transferred to an Air Canada flight back to Santiago (on its way to Toronto).  I arrived at the apartment at just after 10:00 pm and the owner, Francisca, was there to meet me.  After explaining everything in the apartment, including the process for getting hot water (turn on propane tank, turn on wall valve then light pilot by holding down button for a few seconds then turn to heat setting, then doing the reverse after using and repeating the process next time), she walked me around the neighborhood which is full of cafes and bars and coffee shops and was very lively even at that time of night.

The bed was very comfortable, but despite the fact I had had very little sleep for the previous two days, I was wide awake until after 2:00 am because my body clock was 8 hours behind.

I had come to Santiago for 4 nights in the apartment before moving to the hotel where the Grand Circle tour of Chile and Argentina starts.

Friday September 4, 2015: Prague Castle

After packing, storing our bags at the hotel and checking out, Katie and I and set off for Prague Castle (Pražský hrad), one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic.  We caught a streetcar and then walked up the many steps leading up the hill.

There were great views of the city from the hill and a good sculpture of a musician on the way up.

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When we entered the Castle gate we could not figure out where we were supposed to buy the tickets to see the various sights of interest in the castle compound.  Eventually we found the place and there were long lines.  It was not clear which line we should be in to get audioguides.  We had to leave a deposit and show our passports as security.  We chose the short tour and the 3-hour audio guide.  We knew we had to have it back in the hands of the ticket office by 2:30 at the latest but we had no idea whether the line would be as long and slow when we wanted to do that.  At this stage we became convinced that Vicki had not given us good advice when she told us the organized tour wasn’t worth it -we would dearly love to have not worried about all of these time-consuming and stressful aspects of a self-tour!

Our tickets gave us access to the Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, and Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower

We went into St Vitus Cathedral  first.   (Notes mislaid, so no details)  

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It is a very impressive and interesting cathedral with many artifacts, and it was worth having the audioguide to explain everything.  The St Wenceslas chapel is particularly beautiful.  It was built on the former place of Romanesque rotunda where Wenceslas was buried and the Chapel still keeps the holy relics of the saint.

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As we came out of the cathedral it was almost time for the changing of the guard.  We didn’t get a good view of either the band on the balcony of the palace or the guards themselves.

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We went inside the Palace and admired the staterooms (no photos allowed)

After this we went into St George’s Basilica.

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I really liked the atmosphere in this church and it has beautiful murals on the ceiling in the dome area.

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There is a depiction of St Ludmilla showing the that she was strangled, and her tomb is in a chapel.

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There is also a simple wooden tomb of the basilica’s founders Princes Vratislav I and Boleslav II,

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The relics of St Ludmilla are in a very ornate monument

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We walked down Golden Lane and admired the tiny houses and the scenes inside some of them and boutiques in others.

Franz Kafka used one of the houses fre to write in peace for a couple of years.

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I particularly liked the home of  historian Josef Kazda, who saved thousands of Czech films from destruction by the Nazis.

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In the courtyard outside Golden Lane is a statue which seems to have been rubbed in the same place rather a lot.  I resisted!

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We headed back down the way we came and caught the streetcar back to the hotel.

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As we were waiting in the lobby for a taxi to come and take us to the hotel at the airport, we watched a lot of bikers from different countries arriving for a Harley convention (is that what they call it?)

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On our last night in Prague, we stayed at the Courtyard at the airport so that we could get to our morning flights with minimal stress.

Both Katie and I really liked Prague – it lived up to the recommendations of quite a few friends!  Overall this was a great end to a wonderful trip!

Thursday September 3, 2015: Prague

About 2/3 of the group had signed up for the optional tour of Prague Castle, Linda included, but Katie and I had decided to go there on our own on our extra day in Prague, especially since the Program Directors had suggested that this might be a place we could just as easily see on our own, and we had an extra day to spend in the city.  We joined the other 1/3 of the cruise group on the walked by Lukas through the Lesser District on the opposite side of the river from Old Town.

As we left the hotel, Lukas pointed out a plaque commemorating the place where Jews were gathered before being marched to the railway station just down the road.

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We caught a streetcar to the river, passing the National Theater, which was currently closed for restoration. Like the other Opera buildings we had seen that were part of Franz Josef’s empire, the Prague theater was not allowed to be as big as the one in Vienna, so it was made with a golden roof as a symbol of Czech pride.

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We crossed back across the river from the street car stop, to the Lesser District and saw Shooters Island in the middle, now a park.  Under the reign of Charles IV the island became a place for Prague’s shooters to practice the art of shooting from bows and crossbows. From the 18th century it became the site of the Midsummer celebrations associated with gunfire and fireworks.

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We walked through Kampa park by the river and Lukas pointed out a new artistic installation of Poems written by Czech poets on scrolls.  He read one of his favorites to us in Czech.  There are many renowned Czech poets, most famous is probably Milan Kundera, but Jan Neruda was another of those well-known outside Czechoslovakia (Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, named himself after him).

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 We saw the Devil’s Stream, or Certovka Canal near the Charles bridge.  It is an artificial channel, dividing the Kampa Island from the Lesser Town. There is an old mill-wheel in the channel and it makes this place look even more picturesque. The area belonged to the Knights of Malta in the middle ages who created the channel to regulate the flow of water needed for the mills in the area.  A legend has it, that it was named Devil’s Stream after a woman of devilish nature, who used to live nearby, at the Maltese Square. In fact, the place was probably called after the house “At the Seven Devils”, standing there.  Several famous movies were shot at the Devil´s Stream and around it, for example Mission Impossible and Amadeus. There are now padlocks on that bridge as there seem to be in many European ciites, starting with Paris.

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We passed some of the sculptor Czerny’s “babies” on the ground.  They were originally installed on top of the TV Tower but were taken down after much controversy.

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Lukas pointed out the new flood barrier installation.  There are plates along the ground where the uprights of the barrier walls are screwed in when needed.  They are made to be put up to adjustable heights up to 5 meters.  The pressure of the water  causes a better seal.  They are installed very quickly by city firefighters are were successfully deployed in 2013

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This area was always one of the most prestigious places to live and has now all been returned to private ownership.  A lot of luck was involved  if you happened to be in an apartment run by the state in that part of town, and if you could afford it, you had the opportunity to stay there.  There are certainly many beautiful buildings in the area including some embassies.

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Next we went to see the John Lennon wall.  During communist times, people couldn’t listen  to the music they wanted.  It was a big deal to own very expensive black-market albums of the Beatles  and listen to them in secret.  Lennon was the apostle of peace, and when he was killed in 1980 people gathered at this wall to commemorate his life and still do.  They started to write political slogans like”go to hell, communists”  It would be painted over by police but in the morning they would have appeared again.  It became known as the John Lennon wall.  The word “láska” means love.

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The last stop on the walk was the Church of Our Lady Victorious to see the Infant Jesus of Prague which is believed to cause miracles.  He is lovingly tended by the sisters at the church and they change  his dress every week. He has more than 500 of them!

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After the tour Katie and walked back through the streets.

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Katie had one of the traditional rolled pastries (not gluten free).

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We noticed the same toy mole in shops that Vicki had pointed out to us in Slovakia – beloved in all of the former communist countries!

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We went back over the Charles Bridge so Katie could buy some jewelry.

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Near the Main Square we found a shop that sold nesting dolls for many US sports teams, with each nested doll have a team player’s name.

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After lunch we went to the Museum of Communism near Wenceslas Square.  It is in a casino building, right next to a McDonalds – rather incongruous!

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We found it fascinating.  It had all sorts of artifacts from Communist times and provided a good education on how the communists ran things!  There were anti-fascist and anti-US propaganda posters and many photos of the fall of communism too.

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We went back to the hotel and met the group for final drinks and farewells to the three program directors then we went in our three groups out for the final dinner – our group had an excellent meal and we heard the others liked theirs too!

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We said goodbye to many of our new aquaintances and also to Linda who was leaving in the morning.